(Adds quotes from IMF official, context)
LIMA, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Latin America is now in a weaker position than in 2008 to respond to external economic shocks because of higher debt levels and falling growth potential, a top IMF official said Thursday.
The absence of strong external stimulus measures this time around also increases risk in the region, said Alejandro Werner, the IMF's director for the Western Hemisphere Department.
"It's a tougher situation and therefore countries should be careful with how they react to this scenario," Werner told Reuters on the sidelines of an International Monetary Fund event in Lima, the host of annual IMF meetings next month.
The IMF will likely announce a lower estimate for 2015 economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean next month, Werner said. In July the IMF had forecast a 0.5 percent expansion.
When asked if 2015 regional growth would still be positive, Werner said, "we have to see, we're working on that."
"It's very clear that there has been some negative news and not a lot of positive news," Werner said.
The IMF will also trim its view for the region's medium-term growth potential, perhaps by a full percentage point, Werner said.
Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Christian Plumb